Preparing your research at the Belgian State Archives

Because archives are not always only one block away from you, or because their opening times don’t suit you always well, you most probably will need to do as much preparatory and research work as possible before and after your visit. In order to know how to plan your visit to the archives the best way possible, it is of utmost importance to know what you should and what you should not expect at the archives.

It is for that reason that I’ll try to share in this article some of my personal tips for doing research in the Belgian state archives while  focusing  on the alien files (click here for an overview of other articles with tips ont doing research at the Belgian archives on this website).

I’ve explained a bit about the numbers which were  assigned  to each newly  opened  file (see:  “An introduction to the Belgian Statearchives and its immigration files”). When you are looking for a specific relative, you obviously need to get the number of that immigrant’s file. Now, the reading room at the state archives have three sets of indices to the files at your disposal. These indices are  copies of  the originals. The originals can obviously not be borrowed out to the visitors, what you’ll get instead are the copies in various formats. The format of each copy depends on the index you’ll  need, see later).

The originals of the indices are papers in an A3 format with small cards pasted on it. Each card has on it the number of the person’s file and very basic information of the persons such as the first and last names. Additionally to that information, you may find sometimes the date of birth, the place where s/he was born, the occupation of that person, the partner, etc.

An example of how the top row (with tree cards) of one copied A3 page from the index looks like on the microfilms (it did not come out clearly with my digital camera therefore I had to note it down on a piece of paper). Note the details in this index. On the top we see the starting letters for this page (TIMBER).You see for some people the details of the partner (the name, the file number, etc). For most of the people you see also the DOB and the place where they were born. The file number  is obviously still the most important piece of information on these cards. 

This all means that even if you will not be able to get the file itself for whatever reason (mostly due to lack of time), you still will often, thanks to these index sheets, be able to restructure a family. Why? Because if you see that several people share the same file number, it will give you a general  overview  of their family relationship. Remember for example that children younger than 16 (i.e. minors)  do share the same file as the parents (see my first  article  about the Belgian State Archives). That is why you often will find the cards the letter ‘p’ on these cards, indicating a child which shares the same file as its parents (with the file number on that card being the  file number  of the parents).

The following is an overview of the different indices and where to find these indices:

Which series are available Contents (see here for more about these numbers) Where can you find it
First Series This series starts from the oldest files until 500.000 On microfilm (microfilm numbers 2997/1 to 2997/44) (see note 1 and 3).
Second Series This series continues and stops at 1.668.399
  • For the files starting with letters A to J →  microfilms (2998/1 – 2998/144) (see note 1 and 3)
  • For the names starting with Kac to L →  these are missing, the personnel at the archive will be able to look up these indices for  you up in the original index (see note 2)
  • For the files with the names between M to Z →  these are available on microfiches in the reading room (see note 1)
Third Series The third series is an index for   the A-numbers (opened from December 1930 until June 1943) A-range (files A 1 – A 419.999)  â†’  these are available on microfiches in the reading room   (see note 1)

Notes for this table:

  1. You may request the microfilms and microfiches from the librarian, there are microfilm and microfiches readers in the reading room at the disposal of the visitors.
  2. This can be done while you are at home as part of your preparatory work, send an e-mail to the archives and ask them to look these names up.
  3. There is a book in the library of the reading-room (T 413    –  Inventaire des microfilms du fichier des dossiers individuels by B. Boone and R. Depoortere  – Brussels 1996)  which has an inventory and which point out for the second series on which microfilm to find the copies of the A3-sized indices with the cards on it.

Now that we have (hopefully) found the number of the file, we’ll be able to request the corresponding file.

How to request and get the Files:
When you have the file number, you’ll have to place the order in the reading room. The daily allowed quota for each visitor is 25 orders (you can always to try to get an exception if you tell them that you are from abroad).

There are different ways to request a file which  depends on the file number.

For files below the 1.669.999 threshold you’ll need to use one of the PCa’s in the reading room. For files from the A series (see the overview earlier in this article) or files that have a number higher than 1000,000, you’ll need to fill in a paper form which you can get from the librarian (when you plan to visit the archives on Saturday, you’ll need to place your order in person or via e-mail or telephone not later then Friday before at 1pm).

At set times the employees of the archive go down to the cabinets to get the ordered files to the reading room. These times are (in 2011):

  • 8.45 o’ clock
  • 9.30 o’ clock
  • 10.30 o’ clock
  • 11.30 o’ clock
  • 13.15 o’ clock
  • 14.15 o’ clock
  • 15.30 o’ clock

When the files are ready, your table number will appear on the big computer screens upon which you’ll be able to take one file per time.

Reproductions of the files:
Because my time is limited, I usually do photograph the files and finish my research at home. But before you start photographing the files, they require you to fill in a form in order to get permission for photographing. You can get these forms from the librarians.

Another way to get the reproductions (which can also get expensive but you can at least do it from home) is via the  copy-service  of the state archives. The tariffs for copies of original records, is arranged by law (see
One scan will basically cost 30 Eurocents. They offer three kinds of reproductions:

  • printed scans
  • scans on a CD
  • digital scans which will be accessible online via a provided password by the archives.

The easiest way to send an email to the reproductions department (via repro -AT- for placing the order and/or for any other related questions you may have.

Here you see an example of a photographed document and another example of a document which was copied by the archives and sent to me on a CD-rom. The quality and model of the camera which you will be using will obviously  make a difference   (always photograph without flashlights!), likewise will  the quality of the original document be determinative for the quality you will get (I was using a Kodak Easyshare zd710 zoom digital camera):

Examples of frontpages

source: file 653595 - Bertram Salomon - Timberg Ernestine (photographed by myself)

source: file 911804 (copied by the archives)

Examples of typical forms often found in alien files

source: file 653595 - Bertram Salomon - Timberg Ernestine (photographed by myself)

source: file 911804 (copied by the archives)

Don’t forget that the friendly and  helpful  personnel usually gives you a general overview and explain you how they work on your first visit to the reading room. They also can assist you whilst you are there with any question you may have.

Make sure to check the links beneath the second  article  about the Belgian State Archives (The State Archives in Belgium: Getting there).

Sources: The main sources used for this article: My own experience and the following publication:

“De individuele vreemdelingendossiers afkomstig van de Openbare Veiligheid (Vreemdelingenpolitie) (1835-1943) Zoekwijzers” – by CAESTECKER Frank, STRUBBE Filip, TALLIER Pierre-Alain.

Further reading: The following 3 articles on this website attempt to present the reader with a general overview of the Belgian State Archives:

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